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'I want – I want somehow to get away with you into a world where words like that – categories like that – won't exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter.’
Newland Archer, a successful and charming young lawyer conducts himself by the rules and standards of the polite, upper class New York society that he resides in. Happily engaged to the pretty and conventional May Welland, his attachment guarantees his place in this rigid world of the elite.
However, the arrival of May’s cousin, the exotic and beautiful European Countess Olenska throws Newland’s life upside down. A divorcee, Olenska is ostracised by those around her, yet Newland is fiercely drawn to her wit, determination and willingness to flout convention. With the Countess, Newland is freed from the limitations that surround him and truly begins to ‘feel’ for the first time.
Wharton’s subtle exposé of the manners and etiquette of 1870s New York society is both comedic, subtle, satirical and cynical in style and paints an evocative picture of a man torn between his passion and his obligation.